Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Hope for the Best: The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis by Max Schulman

Over all I have neglected to write much about one of my early loves, something more intellectual folk turn their nose up at--television. I once wrote that Rod Sterling's Twilight Zone taught me many of my basic core values, including what cigarette I would have smoked had I ever taken up the habit. I mentioned liking Alfred Hitchcock as a kid. The truth is, I am a Boomer and those of my cohort grew up with television. You could say we MADE television. Television shows made just for us: Romper Room, Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Howdy Doody, Captain Kangaroo, The Micky Mouse Club, The Wonderful World of Disney, Disney's and Wonderful World of Color (which I saw in black and white).

Could the the medium have survived without our parents supporting their sponsors? Like Wonder Bread: Buffalo Bob on the Howdy Doody Show told us kids to look for the wrapper with the red, yellow and blue balloons. See? We made television!

The Westerns that dominated TV also dominated childhood play. Pacifist me as a preschooler wore a gun belt with two six shooters as I took on the mask of Singing Cowboy. I fought to be Gene Autry or Roy Rogers in our make-believe play. I was devastated when my Bat Masterson cane broke.

There was Lassie, The Adventures of Rin Tin Tin, Sea Hunt, Sky King, Phil Silvers, Rocky & Bullwinkle, Dennis the Menace, Robin Hood, Dick Van Dyke, Make Room for Daddy, Kukla, Fran, and Ollie, My Friend Flicka, Shirley Temple's Storybook, I've Got A Secret, Donna Reed, Topper, Mr. Wizard, Art Linkletter, 77 Sunset Strip, Alfred Hitchcock, Candid Camera-- And Saturday Night at the Movies.

How I found time to color a page in my coloring book or cut out a paper doll with all that television watching I don't know.

And I watched Dobie Gillis. It was meant for older kids, but the man was talking right to me! How could I resist? And he had the most incredible friend in the whole world--Maynard G. Krebs. I was only seven to eleven old when the show aired. I didn't have a clue about the perils of teenage love. But I loved the show.

Now we have Netflix and HULU I have watched Dobie Gillis again. It's like looking at a whole 'nother civilization! Set in days of saddle shoes pony tails, and malt shops, male-chauvinist pig Dobie sees women as objects of desire, beautiful, but displaying little mental depth.  His 'oddball' friend wears a beard (which today would make him trendy). Dobie sitting like Rodin's The Thinker, contemplating the problem of how to get a girl and never managing to keep one.

NetGalley offered the Max Shulman collection of stories The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis.  It sounded like fun. I requested it; I got it. Reading the first page I was roaring.

The American National Biography Online website quotes the New York Herald Tribune, August 11, 1956, saying Shulman was "the master of undergraduate humor, the outrageous pun and the verbal caricature" relying on broad wordplay or the ludicrous non sequitur.

Dobie Gillis speaks to the reader in each of the eleven stories. Although his major, age, and father's business may change, his dilemma is always the same: there's this girl, see... He does anything to get this girl. He changes his major, lies, cheats, bargains, borrows money, and goes into debt.

The girls are usually rich and Dobie has to scramble to afford them. In The Sugar Bowl an intellectual 'ugly Betty' pursues Dobie but he isn't interested until she invites him to a student meeting at a professor's house where Big Ideas are discussed-- and a jar of money is available for student discretionary needs. Dobie joins the group hoping to get his hand in the jar. He needs $10 to take a beautiful, rich girl to the prom. 'Ugly Betty' gets to the money first, spends it on a makeover, becomes one of the 'beauties', and gets her man.

In The Face is Familiar, But-- Dobie meets a girl at a dance but he doesn't catch her name. Over several dates he tries to discover her name. The movie theater has a weekly drawing. Dobie gives the girl his ticket, she easily wins $640, and is asked her name. Dobie learns she gave a false name. He lost $640 and gained nothing.

In The Mock Governor a beauty has an overprotective uncle with political aspirations; Dobie joins an imaginary campaign to get on the uncle's good side.

In The Unlucky Winner a girl keeps Dobie too busy to attend class or write a theme. He plagiarizes an 1919 essay and his professor enters it into a contest. The original writer is the judge! He doesn't turn Dobie in; he is gratified that students still read his theme.

In my favorite story, Love is a Fallacy, Dobie plays Pygmalion, teaching a beautiful girl logical thinking to make her his intellectual equal. When he deems her up to snuff to be a lawyer's wife he asks her to go steady. But the girl tears down his every argument using the critical thinking skills he helped her to hone.

The last story in the collection, You Think You've Got Trouble, finds Dobie's grocer father commiserating with the mother of a Bryn Mawr drop out.  Mr. Gillis explains that he worked hard to build his little business which he had hoped Dobie would take over. But no, Dobie wants to be an Egyptologist.

"You work for them, you make plans for them, you hope, you dream, you pray, and then what happens? They turn around and do exactly what they wanna." He continues, "You're licked. You can't stop 'em. You just gotta let 'em do what they wanna and hope for the best. You and I lady, it ain't our world no more. It's theirs. We've lived our life."

Truer words were never spoken.

Max Schulman (1919-1988) was born in Minnesota and started writing at age four. He attended the University of Minnesota where he edited and wrote for the humor magazine--just like Dobie. During his time in service during World War II he wrote two books. His play The Tender Trap and his novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys! were adapted into films. The Dobie Gillis stories were first published in magazines including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and The Saturday Evening Post.

All around me was poverty and sordidness,'' he said. ''But I refused to see it that way. By turning it into jokes, I made it bearable.''

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

Praise for Max Shulman
“The first person I ever laughed at while reading was Max Shulman.” —Woody Allen

“Students of humor [should] brainwash themselves with the best expressions of the art by reading . . . Max Shulman.” —Steve Allen

“Ribald, outrageous, careening humor that was no respecter of boundaries.” —Los Angeles Times

“Shulman was a satirist with a sunny disposition. . . . A Woody Allen without neuroses.” —Richard Corliss

“Wry, cynical, intelligent, irreverent—nothing is sacred on Shulman’s campus.” —Elinor Lipman

“Shulman is a brilliant satirist. His extraordinary word choice is the core of his humor. Often the bitter core.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

“A combination of artists shaped my sense of humor: Robert Benchley with the printed word. Max Shulman and James Thurber.” —Bob Newhart

“Funny and frantic . . . Very wise and sharp satire.” —Ed Grant, Media Funhouse


The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis
Max Shulman
Open Road Media
Publication January 12, 2016
$7.99 ebook
ISBN: 9781504027823

See my post on NBC's 1964 Star Guide here
See my post on I Was A Card Carrying Member of U.N.C.L.E. here